The Huskies bounced back from a tough loss to No. 1 Gonzaga by holding off a late charge by the Redhawks to win their 14th consecutive game in the series.
The word rivalry gets thrown around too casually — and often erroneously — if you ask Jim Hayford.
Take for instance, the men’s basketball series between Washington and Seattle University that began 65 years ago.
To the uninitiated, the close proximity between the Capitol Hill and Montlake schools that are located about 4 miles apart constitutes a neighborhood rivalry steeped in tradition that includes local hoops royalty such as SU greats Johnny and Eddie O’Brien and UW’s famed Bob Houbregs.
But Hayford contends that until the Redhawks beat the Huskies, then let’s call their annual matchup what it is, just another romp for UW.
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In front of 6,688 at Alaska Airlines Arena, Washington ran its winning streak to 14 straight over Seattle U after Sunday’s 70-62 victory, which was much closer than the score indicates.
The Huskies led by 20 points with less than 10 minutes left before losing control and watching their lead shrink to two points near the end.
Ahead 64-62 with 1:24 left, the Huskies finished with a 6-0 run.
“The last two minutes, two years in row we’re down two points and the Huskies have won the last minute,” Hayford said while noting SU’s 89-84 loss to UW last season.
The Redhawks looked as if they might get their first win over Washington since 1978 considering they entered the game with a six-game winning streak and their best record in 50 years.
“If you historically look at how the scores have been and how the last two years have gone, we’re closing the gap,” Hayford said. “With that said, UW has also gotten a lot better the last two years.
“We’re getting there … but the better team won today.”
Jaylen Nowell finished with 18 points, Noah Dickerson had 13 and David Crisp and Dominic Green each tallied 11 for Washington (7-3).
Meanwhile, Morgan Means tallied a game-high 21 points, Myles Carter had 15 and Delante Jones 10 for the Redhawks (9-3).
There wasn’t much celebration in either locker room after this one.
Hayford was generally pleased with SU’s start and finish, but he lamented the “middle 20 minutes” that led to its 20-point deficit, which he called “troublesome.”
And UW coach Mike Hopkins wasn’t happy about the Huskies’ 16 turnovers and the way they responded after going ahead by 20 points midway in the second half.
“You’ve got to respect the game,” Hopkins said. “You can’t be bored with what’s working because you haven’t gotten a shot. You’ve got to keep making sure you’re attacking (for) your best opportunity to score.”
While building a 41-34 lead in the first half, Washington went 6 for 9 on three-pointers and shot 57.1 percent from the field.
But in the second half, UW was 0 for 8 from downtown and shot 37 percent on field goals.
“Sometimes what happens with kids, they allow their offense to be in their heads for the defensive end,” Hopkins said. “You’ve got to be on a short-term memory in this game. When you start thinking that way, you start thinking about yourself and you’re not thinking about your team. The one thing that we’re trying to do is get these guys thinking about each other for long periods of time. It’s our shot, not your shot. Share the ball.”
The Huskies started the second half with a 17-4 run to go up 58-38 with 13:21 left before both teams went scoreless over the next three minutes.
“We thought the game was over,” said UW senior guard Matisse Thybulle, who tallied six points, three steals, three blocks and three rebounds along with a pair of highlight dunks. “We just kind of mailed it in.”
While Washington struggled to score, Seattle U made things interesting at the end with a 24-6 run to cut its deficit to 64-62 with 1:24 left.
“It’s hard to flip the switch back on,” Crisp said.
When it mattered most, UW found just enough offense to fend off Seattle U. The Huskies received a layup from Green and a pair of free throws from Crisp and Nowell on their final three possessions.
Meanwhile, SU’s last three offensive trips included a missed layup from Carter, a turnover by Terrell Brown and Means had a shot blocked by Thybulle.
“You never take a win for granted,” Crisp said. “You’re always happy for it and appreciate it, it’s just that we got things to correct.”
Clearly, the Huskies were disheartened they didn’t duplicate their effort in last week’s last-second 81-79 defeat at No. 1 Gonzaga.
UW’s seniors will finish their careers winless against Gonzaga, but they took solace knowing they’re a perfect 4-0 versus Seattle U. Washington is now 30-4 all-time against SU.
“I’m glad at the fact that we haven’t lost to that team,” Crisp said smiling. “We run Seattle.”
UW freshman center Bryan Penn-Johnson is out at least 6-8 weeks because of an injury to his lower right leg.